Energy and Global Warming News for February 5: How activists took on oil companies; Calif. regulator limits CO2 emissions; High hopes for clean-energy jobs
"Energy and Global Warming News for February 5: How activists took on oil companies; Calif. regulator limits CO2 emissions; High hopes for clean-energy jobs"
Activists can work for years before Congress takes notice.
Just ask Theo Colborn, a scientist in Colorado who started studying the environmental impact of natural gas drilling in 2002. She has worked with dozens of grassroots groups to highlight the dangers of a natural gas extraction method.
Earlier this month, Colborn’s message reached Capitol Hill. Lawmakers spent the better part of a hearing on ExxonMobil’s proposed merger with XTO discussing hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
Companies use the technique, which requires pumping millions of gallons of chemical mixtures into the ground, to extract natural gas from shale rock. Environmental groups say the process contaminates drinking water.
XTO, a natural gas supplier, owns many of the nation’s shale reserves, and ExxonMobil plans to mine those for natural gas. The oil executives testified that fracking would create jobs and provide Americans a domestic fossil-fuel alternative.
“It’s tantamount that we find a way to continue that practice because it is such a valuable resource,” XTO Founder Bob R. Simpson testified.
Hmm. He meant “paramount” and not “tantamount.” Or perhaps the transcriber got it wrong. Hard to tell these days with the general decline in editing skills. The bigger question is why didn’t the reporter or the editor notice the mistake?
Simpson said the environmentalists’ concerns were overblown, and that multiple layers of steel casing keep the chemicals from seeping into drinking water.
Colborn and her allies say they have water samples to prove otherwise. They are pushing for regulations that would require the companies to disclose what chemicals are used in fracking.
To counter a lobby as strong as the oil and gas industry, Colborn reached out to local and national groups.
Together, the coalition of grassroots organizers and national lobbyists has been able to prompt action from local officials, members of Congress, and the Obama administration.
But the success was years in the making.
Regulators in California are issuing what they say is the first federal air pollution permit that limits greenhouse gas emissions.
The permit is being issued to a natural gas fired power plant that Calpine is building in Hayward, Calif. The Russell City Energy Center will have the capacity to produce 600 megawatts of electricity but release 50 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than even the cleanest coal plant, Calpine said in a press release. The company called the permit a “case study” in how the Clean Air Act can be used to regulate carbon and other heat trapping gases.
It’s OK to be confused. A federal greenhouse gas permit? Climate legislation with a cap has sputtered in the Senate. And while EPA is moving forward with its own rule based on the Clean Air Act, the agency still has a long way to go before settling on an emissions limit. Despite the recent activity, no federal limit on heat trapping gases exists.
But Calpine and regulators at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which administers the Clean Air Act for the region, reached an agreement that will require the utility to use “best available technology” to meet emission limits at the Russell City facility.
“We have been proactive in trying to make sure our facilities use the best technology possible to ensure we can curb greenhouse gases,” said Norma Dunn, a Calpine spokeswoman. “In the future, this is going to be required. We want to show that we can generate electricity and still take care of the environment.”
Although the emissions cuts were voluntarily accepted, they are still enforceable, a spokeswoman at the management district said. Calpine will have to meet hourly, daily and annual emissions standards.
Environmentalists who haven’t had all that much to cheer about on climate said the announcement was good news.
“This could become an important precedent,” said Frank O’Donnell of Clean Air Watch, in an email. “It shows the current Clean Air Act can be used to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.”
Dunn said she did not know if the technologies to be included in the Russell City plant will raise the costs of electricity.
The U.S. could add hundreds of thousands of jobs if Congress requires that part of the nation’s electricity be derived from renewable sources, according to a study released Thursday.
The study, by Navigant Consulting, said a renewable-energy standard requiring utilities to produce between 20% and 25% of their energy from wind, solar and other renewable sources would create between 191,000 and 274,000 jobs.
More than half would be high-value manufacturing jobs that could help the U.S. boost exports and develop an advantage in technological innovation, said Navigant, a business consultancy that conducted the study for the RES Alliance for Jobs, a consortium of renewable-energy companies.
Absent such a federal mandate, the study found, many states would lose renewable-energy jobs in coming years and some industries, such as biomass, could collapse altogether. As natural gas prices decline, renewable energy is less competitive against conventional sources of power generation.
A renewable-energy standard is receiving more attention now that federal climate-change legislation has stumbled. The Waxman-Markey bill, passed by the House of Representatives in June, included a requirement that 20% of U.S. energy come from renewables by 2020. Some environmental and renewable-energy groups are lobbying for such provisions in a separate jobs bill.
Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell this week urged a group of business leaders to support a federal renewable standard, characterizing it as critical to U.S. efforts to compete with China, which has become the largest exporter of equipment to generate solar and wind power. China is devoting more than $200 billion to clean energy in its economic-stimulus package.
Mr. Rendell urged business leaders to agitate for a renewable-energy standard. “Mandates are what will create the market,” he said.
Speaking before the same gathering, a conference organized by the Brookings Institution think tank and investment bank Lazard, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the federal government can learn from the experience of states that are tackling climate change through their own renewable-energy standards.
California has set a goal of obtaining 33% of its power from renewable sources by 2020, from about 13% now. “We don’t mind being the laboratory for the federal government,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said.
Bruce Katz, director of Brookings’s Metropolitan Policy Program, said “the transition to a low-carbon economy is fundamentally about markets” and who will dominate them.
The states that would benefit most from a renewable-energy standard are those that already impose targets on their utilities such as California, Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado and Florida
A national mandate requiring utilities to generate 25 percent of power from sources such as wind and solar energy by 2025 will create three times more jobs than weaker measures Congress is considering, a study released by renewable energy advocates said on Thursday.
RES-Alliance for Jobs, a coalition of green power businesses and trade groups, is using the new study to promote the benefits of a high federal renewable electricity mandate.
“A strong renewable electricity standard is crucial to create a stable investment environment and grow this highly promising sector,” said Don Furman, senior vice president for development, transmission, and policy at wind energy company Iberdrola Renewables (IBR.MC).
“Without a strong RES, the US wind industry will see no net job growth, and will likely lose jobs to overseas competitors,” Furman added.
Clean energy backers have been lobbying Congress to adopt a higher national renewable mandate than the measures lawmakers are considering, but they face opposition from lawmakers concerned about raising energy prices during a recession.
The study commissioned by the alliance found the industry would create 274,000 more jobs under a 25 percent renewable power standard than it would create without a mandate.
Such a standard would add three times more jobs than would be gained under a House approved renewable power target and a similar measure that’s pending in the Senate, the study found.
The House passed a bill last year that would require at least 15 percent of electricity generated by utilities to come from renewable sources by 2020.
A mandate approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee would also set a 15 percent renewable power target, but states could meet up to a quarter of the mandate through energy efficiency measures.
Lawmakers from regions without a great deal of solar and wind resources have argued against imposing a stringent renewable electricity standard, saying their constituents would be penalized with more expensive power bills.
To counter this opposition, the alliance pointed to the study’s findings that every state would gain more jobs from a higher renewable standard. The Southeast, which is heavily reliant on coal, would benefit from thousands of new jobs in the biomass industries, the study said.
“We’re still here” is the fitting epitaph for how eco-oriented companies survived, and in some cases even thrived, during the recession, according to the third annual State of Green Business report.
The economic downturn actually provided an impetus as well as federal stimulus funds for businesses to cut operating costs by improving energy efficiency, says the report by GreenBiz.com, a website of Greener World Media.
The report will be discussed at the company’s State of Green Business Forum, which begins today in San Francisco and Tuesday in Chicago
“The green economy is alive and well, even during tough times,” says Joel Makower, the website’s executive editor and report’s lead author.
The assessment comesas President Obama seeks to expand the nation’s clean energy economy by creating government incentives to boost not only renewable power but also nuclear plants, biofuels and clean coal technologies.
While the report paints a fairly positive picture, noting the boom in green-powered vehicles and consumer product information, it notes weak spots, too.
Of 20 measures in its GreenBiz Index, it says three — level of greenhouse gas emissions, number of telecommuters, recycling of electronics — are losing ground.
It says six measures are showing significant progress: number of clean-energy patents, energy efficiency, number of Energy Star products, amount of paper recycled and water conservation.
It deems the remaining 11 indicators to be “treading water” “” holding steady or making only incremental gains that are insufficient to address the environment’s problems.
GreenBiz.com says one of the most positive trends in the industry is its new “radical transparency.” It says far more information about companies, products and ingredients is now instantly available online, the result of social networking, blogging, widgets and iPhone applications.
Night falls here by 5 p.m. and people stream into the open-air market to catch the latest political news. They have much to discuss, because elections are currently on in the state of Jharkhand, which is famous for three things: corruption, a home-grown terrorism threat called Naxalism, and this area’s economic life, which is marked in every imaginable way by coal.
Coal-fired electricity lights a single incandescent bulb in each shop, and the combined yellow glow gives the market a festive air. Underneath this town, the earth is burning. Suresh Kumar, 50, secretary of a local union, leaves the tea shop where he has his makeshift office and steers his motorbike down a road lined with dark piles of mining debris.
The light from his headlight is blocked by plumes of smelly, sulfurous smoke seeping out of the ground. He stops suddenly, seeing how close he has come to the edge of an open-pit mine. In the far distance, there is an orange glow in the sky. It is a non-natural sunshine reflecting the burning of millions of tons of prime coking coal. The underground fire has burned out of control for nearly a century.
Coal is the bane of Jharkhand, and the reason why Kumar and his fellow residents need to move out of the town. If the government has its way, 17 open-pit mining complexes will be built here. Below the town lie 19 seams of prime coking coal. The government’s goal is to get at the coal before the fire does.
There are many offshoots of this little drama that illustrate the high environmental and public health costs of extracting the biggest natural resource sustaining India’s economic boom.
While environmental groups in developed nations talk of a coming world based on solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy, India’s 8 percent economic growth rate is powered by coal. Its consumption is projected to increase by at least 400 percent by the year 2030, according to the government’s 2005 Integrated Energy Policy report.
This means that in the next 20 years, India will extract, transport, import and burn coal at record rates. It could emit between 4 billion and 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year and approach the United States’ current emission levels, according to the report.
“While others are worrying about global warming, India’s energy elite fret mainly about how to secure enough coal,” David Victor, a professor at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, recently wrote in the Boston Review.
About 70 percent of India’s electricity comes from coal-burning plants, and that fraction is likely to grow, according to Victor. At the moment, India’s power supply is running about 12 percent behind demand, resulting in frequent blackouts. There is also a shortage of coking coal needed to feed the demands of cement and steel manufacturing.
“From the Indian perspective, which is driven primarily by economic needs at this point, the fact that coal is cheap and abundant has really led it to be the fuel of choice,” said Jeremy Carl, a research fellow at the Program on Energy and Sustainable Development.
The Ministry of Coal predicts that India may need to mine about 2 billion tons of coal per year by 2030. Coal India Ltd., the state-owned mining company, now extracts 550 million tons. India has 70 billion tons in reserves (although estimates vary), but most of it is inaccessible because it is located below forested and inhabited land.
This bottleneck has pushed India to become the world’s fourth-largest importer of primarily coking coal, according to the World Coal Institute. Container ships from Australia, South Africa and Indonesia arrive at its ports bearing steam and metallurgical coal. The fuel is transported hundreds of miles inland and burned in inefficient boilers built in days when greenhouse gas emissions were unheard of.